A look around Memorial Park the last couple of weekends showed plenty of folks spending time camping, biking, fishing, picnicking and hiking. It’s great to see people using this large and unique park. Those park users and their activities are proof that the public really likes getting outside and enjoying nature. They also underscore the need to upgrade the aging facilities at the park. Fortunately, those improvements will get underway in the coming months. Those upcoming Memorial Park improvements, including repairs, upgrades and some new features, will be funded largely by a $595,000 grant from funding received by the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Commission (GMPTC).

The funding was approved by the legislature and Governor Mark Dayton before the end of the legislative session. The grant funds are raised by the additional 1/8 cent sales tax provided by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment. The city is required to provide a 10 percent match. The city requested a grant of $690,000 for what has been called Priority I improvements, which include a new restroom/ shower building for campers and the public in a new location on the south side of the park, repairs and upgrades to the historic large shelter house, including roof repairs, lighting upgrades, tuck-pointing of stone masonry and other upgrades to the often-used facility.

There are also safety and design improvements to the park entrances on each side of Hwy. 67 and the pedestrian walkway that connects them. The work will get underway later this year and in early 2018. These Priority I improvements are part of a much larger plan for repairing and upgrading the park that was the result of a study funded last year by the GMPTC. It identified ideas and estimated costs for several upgrades, repairs and areas of improvements and ranked them in order of priority based on a local committee’s input. The Priority I projects have an estimated design and construction cost of $767,000. The total estimated cost of all five priorities is $4.752 million. Once the Priority I plans are finalized and bids are awarded, the city will be required to provide matching funds that will cover any costs over the $595,000 grant amount. The city’s funds that have been set aside for the 10 percent match will go a long way toward that but depending on construction bid prices, there will likely need to be some more local money provided. With grant money on the line, there will be no trouble finding the necessary local funds to make that happen. These improvements are the result of Memorial Park being recognized as one of 20 significant regional parks in Greater Minnesota.

In fact, it ranked tenth out of those 20 parks state-wide, by the GMPTC which funded the planning money two years ago. That status and the resulting plans are making funding for these improvements possible. Looking ahead, the city, with the help of the Regional Development Commission staff in Appleton, is putting together a grant application for funding a sizeable portion of the Priority II plans, including campground upgrades and additions, utility improvements, new signage, upgrades to picnic and playground areas and park road improvements. The deadline to submit that application is July 31. The grant could come in the next funding cycle, presumably in 2019 but that will depend on available funding as well as the strength of the other proposals. That will require us to sit tight while we enjoy the new upgrades that will become part of one of Minnesota’s most significant parks right here in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley. * * * * * The Sunday StarTribune usually features some story by reporter Curt Brown about Minnesota history. Through the years there have been features about the U.S./Dakota conflict as well as stories about significant personalities from Minnesota’s past including the great Dakota leader Little Crow, the storied congressman from Granite, Andrew Volstead, and many others. This week, the story focused on a group of 10 men from tiny Garden City, located about 15 miles south of Mankato. Each of these men were friends or acquaintances in Garden City. They were all born between 1853 and 1867 when the community had only 200 people and they all become extremely successful in various political and business pursuits, including a significant role in the formation of agri-business giant Archer Daniels Midland Corporation and the huge British pharmaceutical company once known as Wellcome Burroughs, now known as GlaxoSmithKine. It was the Wellcome name that caught my eye. Henry Wellcome (the entrepreneurial pharmacist) and his cousin, Florado Wellcome, who became a physician, were born in 1853 and 1858, respectively. While Henry went to England to make his fortune, Florado moved briefly to Sleepy Eye to practice medicine and then established a medical practice here in Granite in 1879.

The article mentions that he became engaged in banking and real estate. My trusty copy of Carl and Amy Narvestad’s history of Yellow Medicine County reveals that Dr. Wellcome took over a loan and collection business and in 1884 established the Yellow Medicine County Bank. His very successful banking career took him to Minneapolis around the turn of the century where he established a large bank holding company. He died in 1920 but his older cousin lived until 1936 and left a significant amount of his estate to the school in Garden City, which remains an unincorporated community of about 250 people. That school has now merged with school in Lake Crystal and still bears the Wellcome Memorial name. Dr. Wellcome’s Yellow Medicine County Bank name fell by the wayside just a few years ago when the bank was purchased by what was then Citizens State Bank.